Boycott Bell: Time to investigate Bell Media and end #BellLetsTalk

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The Problem:

The #BellLetsTalk campaign is Bell's initiative towards encouraging people to open up about their mental health struggles and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health issues, while Bell donates to mental health initiatives every year. Starting in September 2010, once a year on January 30th, Bell encourages social media users to use their BellLetsTalk hashtag, and every time that hashtag is shared, Bell pledges they'll donate five cents to mental health initiatives. According to Bell Media's website, "on Bell Let’s Talk Day 2021, Canadians took action sharing 159,173,435 messages of support, driving $7,958,671.75 in new mental health funding by Bell". 

While Bell deserves applause for leading the charge in reducing the stigma and encouraging people to open up and share their stories, make no mistake about it, Bell's real underlying motives are mass brand publicity and millions of dollars in tax write-offs.

How Bell Manipulated COVID Relief Funds for Financial Gain:

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bell Media received federal wage subsidies worth $123,000,000 - $123 million! This is a violation of Canada's Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), which states: "as a Canadian employer who has seen a drop in revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be eligible for a subsidy to cover part of your employee wages, retroactive to March 15, 2020. This subsidy will enable you to re-hire workers, help prevent further job losses, and ease your business back into normal operations." Unfortunately for Canadian taxpayers, Bell Media generated a whopping $22.9B in 2020, about 96% of their 2019 revenues. According to Glen LeBlanc, Chief Financial Officer of Bell Canada, "In every successive quarter since COVID-19 began, Bell has delivered sequential quarterly improvement in our operating results, underscoring the stability and resiliency of our company and the strength of our financial position" - this includes a 28.9% increase in Q4 revenues. CEWS funds were not meant for giant corporations such as Bell with billions of dollars in safety nets, but for small Canadian businesses struggling to stay afloat in the midst of economic crisis. Bell Media continued to generate billions of revenues, still applied for and claimed $123M of CEWS funds from the Government of Canada, and even increased their shareholder dividends this year. Let's illustrate it this way: Bell has claimed over a hundred million dollars in government funds meant for small, community businesses, while claiming to donate part of that to mental health initiatives, which would then be used as a massive tax write-off. Canadians deserve an answer as to why the Government of Canada can't lead the charge on mental health issues instead of allowing Bell Media to capitalize and continue to profit from it - and that's not the worst of it.

Bell's Atrocious Treatment of Their Own Employees

The purpose of the CEWS funds were so businesses would be able to sustain business operations as much as possible during the pandemic without causing job losses. Nonetheless, only one week after their #BellLetsTalk day, Bell Media has continued to lay-off employees in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic. Last week, hundreds of Bell Media employees were fired - television anchors, writers, producers, camera operators - including longtime TSN employees Dan O'Toole and Brent Wallace. O'Toole, a viewer favorite, was fired only days after BellLetsTalk day, and went off at Bell Media in now deleted tweets to illustrate the hypocrisy of Bell claiming to care about mental health, except it doesn't apply for their own employees.

“Let’s talk. We should. Let’s talk. Does it mean anything without a hashtag? Oh right. Wrong day. So I have to mention the company for it to mean anything?” “But what if I was fired by the company that makes the hashtag about mental health? Do I still include them in the hashtag?” “Isn’t being fired, I don’t know, kind of bad for mental health. Didn’t include the hashtag. With the company name. So these tweets don’t count?" "Im so confused. So I have to wait for a specific day, and then mention a specific company, and only then, will the company give money to mental health? Only when I mention them? But shouldn’t they just do it, since they are a billion dollar company? Oh. So they look good? Oh"

On February 9th 2021, Bell Media and TSN abruptly let go of all their employees at their radio stations in Vancouver, Hamilton and Winnipeg, and shut down the stations. The stations were pulled while live on air with no explanation offered other than TSN was transitioning these channels to a "funny format", and many of these employees found they lost their jobs via social media. It was another insulting blow to Bell Media's employees; Vancouver's radio station, TSN1040, was almost ready to celebrate their 20th anniversary and led the sports radio market in Vancouver, which left fans infuriated and offended. After Bell pulled the stations out of nowhere, radio anchors, producers, and staff were only given 30 minutes to gather their personal belongings before security would clear out the building.

Bell Media has a long history of disrespecting and exploiting their very own employees; remember when hundreds of Bell employees came forward to reveal Bell's unjust high pressure sales tactics and how those employees stated how the BellLetsTalk campaign "rings hollow" due to the panic attacks and anxiety they've suffered as a result of Bell's practices? The incidents on February 9th are only part of a repeating pattern that's been ignored with a blind eye for far too long. It's evident that Bell Media couldn't care less about mental health of even their own employees, let alone the general public. 

The Government of Canada has an obligation to investigate how Bell Media took advantage of federal wage subsidies only to continue generating mass revenues and laying off hundreds of valuable, skilled employees with zero foresight. And since it clearly has zero regard for the mental health of their own employees, let alone the general public, their hashtag is vain in comparison to the real mental health struggles of people around the world. Bell deserves credit for sparking much more meaningful discussion surrounding mental health, but they cannot continue to be the poster child of the campaign for the sake of the campaign itself.

Bell Let's Talk? Let's talk and figure out how Bell stole millions of taxpayers dollars and relief funds, exploited their employees for years, and quite frankly could not care less about mental health struggles. Let's talk about how it's time to investigate Bell for all they've done and let's talk about how it's time to end #BellLetsTalk.

 

For details on how you can help end the stigma and support mental health initiatives in Canada without contributing to Bell, you can find more information about the Canadian Mental Health Association here and donate here

 

Links for Additional Information:

Mental health struggles and anxiety of Bell employees: https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/bell-employees-stressed-by-sales-targets-1.4418876

Bell pressure sales tactics: https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/telecom-employees-submit-complaints-to-crtc-inquiry-1.4794953

TSN1040 and other stations sudden shutdown: https://theprovince.com/sports/vancouvers-tsn-1040-pulled-off-air-as-bell-canada-continues-with-cuts

Bell Media layoffs less than one week after Bell Let's Talk day: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/bell-layoffs-1.5898421

Former TSN television anchor Dan O'Toole comments regarding Bell Let's Talk: https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/dan-otoole-speaks-out-tsn-bell-media-layoff

Bell Canada 2020 revenues: https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/bce-reports-2020-q4-and-full-year-results-831353388.html

Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/subsidy/emergency-wage-subsidy.html

Bell Let's Talk information: https://letstalk.bell.ca/en/our-initiatives/#:~:text=In%20September%202010%2C%20Bell%20Let's,the%20urgent%20need%20for%20action